Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Caffeinated Commute

With the recent thaw here in the Hudson Valley, I have resumed my regular bicycle commute to work. Commuting to work by bike is, without a doubt, one of the best ways to add miles to your weekly training. As I have gotten further and further into ultra-distance riding, finding the time to log miles has been a challenge, especially as a parent of two school-aged children. Luckily, I live 15 miles from work which is just about an ideal distance for a bicycle commute. It’s not so close that it barely seems worth suiting up and it’s not so far that it takes 2-3 hours just to get there. I also have a shower and locker at my disposal which makes even a wet, sweaty and dirty commute stress-free. Rolling into my office fresh from a crisp ride and a warm shower never fails to put me in a good mood.

The one drawback so far has been the lack of coffee on the ride in. I drink one cup before heading out, but it’s that second cup I drink when I drive into work that really lays down a good foundation for the day ahead. This is why my favorite cycling purchase of 2009 so far has got to be my Trek Soho Coffee Mug. At 18 oz., this insulated, stainless steel mug carries a healthy serving of piping hot Joe that I can sip or chug along the way. It fits snugly into a standard bottle cage and the safety lid is relatively easy to operate with one hand. It is not quite as easy to use as a standard water bottle, but seems not to splash or leak. Just be sure to dust off the stray road salt before drinking. The insulation is adequate and the joy of sipping hot coffee while waiting for a green light in 28-degree weather is priceless. The Soho mug is standard on the Trek Soho commuter bike but it can also be pruchased separately for $14.95. My pals at the Bicycle Depot were more than happy to order me one and may have a few more in stock now; give them a call. If the Trek model is not for you, consult the Bicycle Coffee Systems website for countless other options.

The other challenge I face on the commute into work is the Mid-Hudson Bridge itself whose pedestrian “walkway” is only open from dawn to dusk and rarely ever shoveled. The three-lane roadway is absolutely off limits to cyclists and the pedestrian path limitations make it somewhat more of a challenge in the winter months than I might hope. In fact, I’ve been forced to hop with my bike over the railing on more than one occasion to simply get home in the evening after the gates have been locked. There must be a better way.

Thankfully, the non-profit “Walkway Over the Hudson” project is working to convert an impressive retired freight train line that spans the Hudson just north of the Mid-Hudson Bridge into a pedestrian path. Before the economy entered its present freefall, the plans were to open the span to pedestrians in the fall of 2009 to coincide with the Quadricentennial of Henry Hudson’s fateful trip up the river that now bears his name. With a little luck, and some generous donations, they hopefully won’t be too far off schedule. Donations can be made through their website.

To maximize my training, decompress from a day at work (and because the shoulder on the northbound side of my road is a dangerous mess) I usually add miles onto my return trip in the evening. The additional miles place me on back roads which are much safer after dark. My B + M IXON IQ headlamp is more than adequate to light up the road during the winter months and I also wear my reflective RUSA Sam Browne belt and ankle bands for good measure. With only two round-trips per week, I add a 70-mile base to my training. The fresh air, wildlife and bucolic vistas only add to the experience.


  1. Concerning that coffee mug... watch out!

    I have something similar, it is a Starbux product and it is my coffee 'all rounder' cup, meaning it goes in the truck, and on the desk, and yes, even on the bike.

    A few years ago it was jarred free of the bottle cage as I rattled over railroad tracks. I nearly went down as the rear wheel rolled over it.

    It now sports a bike tire sized dent but continues to serve it's intended purpose. cheers,

    Yr Pal, Dr Codfish

  2. Thanks for the tip, Dr. Codfish. That's just the kind of thing I can see happening to me, especially before I get an adequate supply of the black gold in my system. Keep the rubber side down.

  3. George,
    Your tale makes my bike commute seem pretty tame by comparison -- 3.5 miles over suburban streets and bike paths on a brown commuter bike with comfy front and seat shocks. Well, at least the last steady uphill mile home is a workout -- especially with the all-too-frequent head wind. My main challenge has been frequent flats. I head out to the bike rack at work at the end of the day to find my rear (always rear) tire soft or flat, with a tiny pinhole puncture and no obvious offending splinter. For a while I was suspected revenge from disgruntled undergrads but the same thing happens at home too. Now I suspect the splintered wooden bridge I occasionally cross when I ride directly to/from the Instaar lab on east campus. Have you ever tried the "puncture-proof" goo-lined tires?

    -Greg T.

  4. Hey Greg,

    Spending money on good tires is generally worth it. I use Conti GP 4000 on my road bike and some wide, thick jobs on my single speed, but never have I tried goo-lined tires. When I upgraded to the Contis a few seasons ago, I noticed a huge difference with flats. Try something with good rubber and a Kevlar liner. I doubt you need anything with goo. Also, run your hand over the tire when you finish a ride. It may be that you are picking up slivers or sharp stones that eventually creep into the tire, but which could be removed with your fingernails or a pair of tweesers before things get bad.

  5. I have great respect for commuters in your neck of the woods. Like another commenter I have a 4 mile round trip here in Santa Monica (though I start the day with a 5 1/2 mile round trip hauling 2 kids to school in a trailer...).

    I saw these commuters below in Chicago on a trip back there in December. They are cut from the same hearty cloth: